Felix Kimanthi: There’re positions you can’t get if you’re not married

Olympia Holdings CEO Felix Kimanthi poses for a picture after the interview at Ngong Hills Hotel on March 7, 2024. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

If you look up the meaning of the word Felix, you will learn that it means “fortunate” or “lucky.” It’s not exactly wrong, but it’s not entirely right. If you ask Felix Kimanthi, he will tell you that luck is not something you mention in the presence of self-made men.

Now the CEO of Olympia Holdings—a company comprising several businesses in East and Southern Africa—he is a version of “a wolf on the hill is not as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill.”

He takes the clichéd “calculated risks” literally: He took a chance on quitting his job at 32. Took a chance on joining Olympia. Took a chance on his wife. But he will not take a chance on his omelette. Here at the coy Ngong Hills Hotel in Nairobi, his order is tattooed in the chef’s brain and tacked on their kitchen walls.

He is insatiable when it comes to the things he loves. Board games, that he tries to teach me, but I tune out because I am impatient. His children. His wife, who is his biggest cheerleader. Arsenal. Arsenal? Yes, he says. “I was a midfielder, they called me Pirlo, a magician with the ball.” He’s not exactly right, but he’s not entirely wrong.

Without using the word 'fine', how are you?

I am great. I am wonderful.

What's the first thing you usually do in the morning?

Stretch or exercise. It is part of my life now with different exercises every day. I can do push-ups, about 300 per week but I have since upscaled to 600 per week. Fifty in the morning and 50 in the evening. Then a few stretches. Then 10km of jogging per week, either in the estate or on a treadmill.

I saw you dropping your children. Is that your routine?

I am a father of girls. A 15, 11, and a three-year-old toddler. We have serious discussions. Parenting is like management of services—you can't say you have set everything and it will run on autopilot. You have to consistently find out the new things they learn and if they conform to your set standards.

How is it, women surrounding you?

It is good I have two sisters as well and a younger brother. I get to know how they behave from whatever age, my toddler, teenagers, my wife is a bit younger than me and my sisters who are in between [chuckles].

What are you learning about yourself from your children?

Patience. I have not been a very patient person. In finance, we say it is either debit or credit. It is either/or. Parenting has taught me that it's not a must.

Today it may or may not work out, but don't lose hope. Children are born to test limits. We must show them where those limits are with a lot of care, love and understanding.

What's your favourite childhood memory?

[Chuckles] This is very risky. There was this time after high school when my parents were in Mombasa and we used to swim across the ocean to the other side to go and play football. That was fun, and even today they don't know I used to do that. I stopped crossing the ocean, however, haha!

What was your nickname growing up?

I had many. There was a time I used to play football in high school but then I majored in badminton. In football, I played number eight, an attacking midfielder. They would call me Rui Costa or Pirlo. And I used to score by the way. Those days there were no statistics but I was good [chuckles].

What have you picked from football that you apply in your life?

Football is an everyday thing. So is success. You can't say that you are on leave so you are going to rest for seven days. Even when you are on leave you have to be doing something. In football, the 90 minutes you see are like five percent of what the footballer does—95 percent is preparation.

What remains unchanged about Rui Costa since childhood?

I think I am consistent.

What is your favourite childlike thing to do?

I enjoyed my childhood. Even when I was in high school, I did everything that was there to be done. I played all the games. In badminton, I was number one in Machakos, number two in Eastern Province, and number four nationally. I was the basketball captain, house captain and the chairman of the Math Club. But I was also very disciplined. Remember I used to be out of school for almost half a term during games competitions but I'd stay over in school during midterm to recover what I missed.

Have you transferred the same to your adulthood?

Before my position at Olympia, I used to be a consultant. I'd work 24 hours at times, taking one-hour breaks and working through the night, showering, and going to a meeting.

Was this before you were married?

No, during, haha!

How did your wife take that?

She was a beneficiary of that hard work. Haha! When you are young you are in the planting season of your life. Planting is not interesting, you will step on mud, get soiled, etc. It is very inconvenient, but the fruits are sweet.

Do you remember the first time you saw your wife?

[Chuckles] Yes! It is very vivid in my mind. It was in a finance class at the Coast. It was June 2002 during the World Cup and the games were being played during that time. Brazil was playing against a team but this lady kept asking, "Who scored?" and I was like, "Who do you know?" Haha! I was very interested because she would ask direct questions to lecturers, until lecturers would not proceed before asking her, "Dorothy are you okay?" Not that she was slow but very curious. She represented those who kept quiet haha! She sat at the back, and I was in the middle. I was the class representative then.

What do you think she loves about you most?

We have been married for 16 years so at times things you love keep changing as the years go by.

Which one has been easier, running a family or a business?

I think they work together. There are positions you can't get if you are not married, especially management positions. It is expected that in society, that is one of the rights of passages of people, and getting married is also like a business as it entails a lot. That is where patience is tested to the core. If you can lead a family, then you can lead anywhere.

Do you make a better father or a better husband?

Now I have to strike a balance because I have attended a lot of training on those two, even with my wife. The best gift one can give their children is to love their mother.

I recently read something—a woman's greatest perfume is the fragrance of her man's success. Is that true for you?

My wife chochas (prods) me a lot, my cheerleader. She believes in me because in this life there are times you feel like some opportunities are too big for you; but that's the time she comes and tells you, "Look you can do this." Then I do it.

Do you have a special treat that you do as a family?

A lot. Friday night is movie night. We can sleep at around 4am. When my children leave school, they do their homework, sleep, and wake up at 9pm ready for the long night. We are into family action movies like Home Alone.

Who chooses the movies?

Either my daughters or me. Last Friday was my daughter, and it had a lot of action. I am happy the younger ones slept haha!

What's life's simplest pleasure?

Achieving what you set out to do in the day.

What's one thing you fail at?

Rewarding myself. Even my wife says it a lot. I don't stop to go on holiday or rest for a week or two weeks. But I tell her that that time will come.

I stumbled upon a book that was talking about: Are we human beings or human doings? That we are always chasing the next project, next goal, next target, never being, just doing…

I get what you are saying. It is the concept of the emptiness of existence, forever being without becoming. At times we can't run away from that because there are bills, in this concrete jungle. But learn to create interludes between the races like movie nights, going out et al. My Goal #2 is to grow closer with family so we have arranged meetings for extended family and quarterly visits to our parents.

But do you have a special treat that you do just for yourself? Have you been sent?

Haha! Once I finish reading a good book, I buy myself a gift.

What's the last book you read and what did you take from it?

'Beyond Order' [by Jordan Peterson]. It is a very intriguing book. He takes a lot of lessons from the medical world and transforms them into business and life. Like when a child discovers his index finger and the power of pointing, and how adults don't point. It talks about how to point to what interests you because that is what children do. It ensures you don't live as a passenger in your own life.

What's something difficult you go through that not many people see?

I'll borrow from football. If you watch football, we have coaches and tacticians. Coaches are consistent, tacticians are not because at times you get players who are not aligned with your system. Sometimes in management, we are forced to be both, and the hard part is when you are in tactician mode and put people who don't conform to what you want them to do.

Which team do you support?

I started supporting Arsenal during the 1994 World Cup when Nwankwo Kanu was a youth.

What will people mourn about you when you are gone?

I read a book by Robin Sharma, Who Will Cry When You Die? The underlying principle is that when we are born into this world, we cry as the world rejoices to receive us. We should live our lives such that when we are rejoicing to leave the world, the world cries.

What is something I wouldn't believe about you?

That I am good at all indoor games. From board games to indoor field games. I even play some online, like cards, poker etc. I play them with my children and they are very good. Currently, I am in this board game, which in Botswana they call Morabaraba.

What matters more than you thought it would?

Between 1pm and 2pm, I take time to stay off all machines and electronics to try and reboot my mind so I can concentrate, pray, and meditate. We get a lot of unsolicited information in this age and thus lose attention and our focus reduces. We have a wealth of information and poverty of attention.

How do you quieten your mind?

Meditation. How do I bring my mind to an alpha state? That means exercising the fabric of your mind to focus. When you keep quiet without doing anything, your mind will start wandering. Just bring it back. It is like doing the biceps of the mind.

How do people show you love?

That's strange because I am not used to gifts, or somebody asking me, "How are you today?" I am like, how should I be by the way, haha!

When was the last time someone asked you that?

Last week, it felt strange. And she insisted on the question and I thought she wanted me to start thinking about what's not working in my life.

What are you praying about now?

I am trusting God for my children to be good. Many people worry about what they will leave their children rather than what kind of children they are leaving behind. What you leave in your children rather than what you leave for your children.

What's the soundtrack of your life right now?

There are many songs. There is a recent one by Israel Mbonyi, Amenisamehe. There is a line that says when you find a mountain that you have no capacity for climbing, you put a flag at the foot of that mountain so that you come back you remember that you have to climb it and give a testimony.

Felix Kimanthi says in management, you sometimes have to be both a coach and tactician. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

What are you apologising to yourself for?

I have been very hard on myself. Before I was appointed, I left employment to go do my own thing at 32 years old. I was the group management accountant and the next position was finance director they wouldn't give me that position so why not go make myself one at my own company? I have been very hard on myself.

Have you forgiven yourself?

I have, but I will continue to be harder haha!

Are you happy now?

That's relative because there is a philosophy that says there is no such thing as happiness or sadness. All of them are passions of different degrees.

What is one question you wish more people would ask you?

Values that I hold dear.

Who do you know that I should know?

I have a lot of older friends in their 70s and 80s whom I sit and ask questions about this life, and they give me very intriguing answers. I have a friend who I won't mention his name since I don't have his permission but I have written about him on my blog. His parents separated, he dropped out of school to do mjengo (construction work) with his father, and he went back to different schools depending on who was sponsoring at what time. Now he is a big manager in this city proving that if you want to achieve something you will. One thing I realised is that money is not a solution to all problems, but everybody must find that out on their own haha!

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.